24 October 2007

Baja Fish Tacos

If you ever find yourself near Laguna Beach (California) and you're hungry, head down the PCH and find Taco Loco. Large patios and good music playing on the outdoor speakers will let you know that you're at the right spot. It may look like a hole-in-the-wall, but inside this tiny spot has a lot of character. The servers wear tie-dye T-shirts and the menu lists hemp brownies as well as a smattering of vegan offerings and lots of Mexican fare. However, hands down, the fish taco is the true star of this place, and makes it probably my favorite place for a meal in the entire town. There is nothing quite like enjoying a hot crunchy Taco Loco fish taco while basking in the warm California sun, the smell of the ocean nearby. Ahhh.

Now, people have been eating fish tacos in the coastal areas of Mexico for thousands of years. About 40 years ago, the fish taco migrated into Southern California (the San Diego area is well known for this fare). You can thank the surfers for that, dudes. And today, fish tacos are seemingly everywhere. I can even order them at several places here in Kansas. The problem, though? No one seems to get it right. I've seen them on menus on flour tortillas, with lettuce and tomatoes and cheddar cheese. No, no. That will not do at all. I much prefer the fish tacos we make at home, and surprise, my pets: very delicious and quick to make. Right up Nemmie's alley!

The true Baja fish taco consists of lightly-battered white fish. I tend to get creative with the fish part of the equation: sometimes grilled, sometimes battered, and sometimes just frozen battered-fish portions when I'm in a real hurry. But the other elements never change: served in a corn tortilla with shredded cabbage, white sauce, a bit of salsa, and a generous squeeze of lime.

The white sauce is probably the hardest part to recreate: it's tangy and creamy and thin thin thin; also spicy, with a good mix of spices. The recipe below is from a Dan Diego native who did many experiments to get the sauce right; I think she nailed it. And now, whenever I want, I can have a slice of sunny SoCal right here in Kansas.

One last note: If it's made right, a fish taco is a total mess to eat. The cabbage falls all over the place and your fingers get covered in white sauce and salsa. So this is probably not the best thing to make when you're out to impress anyone with your grace and manners.

Baja Fish Tacos


For fish:
1 c. dark beer
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 lb. boned, skinned cod (or almost any white fish will do)
Oil for frying

For white sauce:
1/2 c. plain yogurt
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1 lime, juiced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 tsp. minced capers
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. dried dill weed
1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
3-4 c. shredded cabbage
Tomato salsa
2 limes, cut into wedges
10 warmed corn tortillas (steam in the microwave for just a minute, between layers of damp paper towels)

In a bowl, whisk beer, flour, and salt, blending well. Rinse fish and pat dry. Cut into about 10 equal pieces.

To make the fish: In a deep 5- to 6-quart pan, heat 1-in. of oil to 360 F. Using a fork, coat fish pieces with beer batter and lift out, draining briefly. Slide coated fish into oil, about 5 pieces at a time. Adjust heat to maintain oil temperature. When fritters are golden, in about 2 minutes, lift out with a slotted spoon and drain briefly on paper towels; keep warm.

To make white sauce: In a medium bowl, mix together yogurt and mayonnaise. Gradually stir in fresh lime juice until consistency is slightly runny. Season with jalapeno, capers, oregano, cumin, dill, and cayenne.

To assemble each taco: Take a warmed corn tortilla. Add a fish fritter, cabbage, white sauce, and salsa (however, I enjoy mine salsa-free). Squeeze lime over filling, fold tortillas, and eat.

Try any or all of these additional toppings: balsamic, malt or cider vinegar; onions; fresh or pickled jalapeno chilies; sliced radishes; green salsa; or hot sauce.

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